Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oh, Science. What is wrong with you? (and giveaway winner)

This post is a downer, but there are recipes and the giveaway winner at the end. You can skip to that part if you like. 

Today was a rough one. Academic politics gone wrong. It reinforces in my mind some of the problems with academic science - the politics, the power-plays, the use and misuse of funds, the hierarchy of importance and seniority, the expectation of neverending workload. In my position (I'm considered a postdoctoral associate, meaning someone with a Ph.D who does research and is presumably on their way to another job), there are limitless amounts of hours I could be at work or working on work. I estimate that I work 50+ hours most weeks, and of course more when it is necessary - like when there is an important deadline. However, it's become more and more obvious that theoretically no time is my own. I own my laptop, yet any scientific minded work I do outside of work may be considered my boss's property. Anything I develope or test in the lab, even if my boss doesn't know about it, can be considered my boss's property. Any time I spend on hobbies like this blog could be considered time my boss should be reimbursed for, even though I NEVER blog at work. Even on the weekends. And I never blog about the subject matter I work on. I'm sure a dozen of you are wondering if I got in trouble today for something like not working enough or doing something I shouldn't have been doing while I was there. The answer is no. It's more complicated than that, but the events of today did make me realize that the idea of ownership permeates my job, and as previously understood, I really have no rights. Oh, did I tell you it's National Postdoc Appreciation Week? No joke. Yay, all of us.

There is some hope in this somewhere. My boss is actually very fair. I've developed quite a few ideas in his lab, and he has indicated I can take some of that research with me when I go. Now, nothing is written down, so he can decide that he doesn't want to give things up in the future, but I don't think that will happen. Postdocs have had to fight much harder for respect and recognition than I ever will. Minor changes in policy are actually occuring. The California State colleges and universities just recognized the first Postdoc Union, but it took a hearing with the state congress to get that done. There is a link here.

The jist of the article is that the postdocs wanted fair wages - the National Institutes of Health minimums which start at ~$37,000 and range to about $52,000 for 7+ years post-Ph.D experience (link here) - not much for 7+ years of postsecondary education in a critical field, eh? Anyway, they also are getting uniform health care, regular raises akin to the ones staff get, and protections against job loss (i.e. 1 month severance). The new wage minimums seem nice until you consider that in this recent survey, it's only $384.00 more than the average liberal arts bachelor's degree holding worker's starting salary. And then you think about how they were allowed to be paid even less than that prior to this agreement.

In the congressional hearing regarding the Californian postdoctoral union, George Miller (D-CA) made some very poignant observations regarding the policies used for postdoctoral associates. He basically states that he always thought the shortage of talent going into science was because we couldn't recruit people there, not because we treated them so badly they turn to another career. Article here.

So that said, I'm pretty down tonight. Therefore the lack of pictures or fun discussion about science-themed topics. So many of my friends have gotten fed up and left this field, and I keep telling myself that if I keep it up, if I keep my head high and keep doing what is right for the students and for the science, that someday I will have enough power to change some policies or stand up to the people misusing the time and energy of others. Because, if I quit, who will be the force of good in science?



The Giveaway winner is Julie. Please e-mail me at thehealthydoc at gmail dot com and I'll get your address and details. The bread is in my freezer and ready to go ASAP.

The recipes for the breads, if you would like to use them, are here. Please enjoy.

Caramel Apple Bread

Bread base: 
1.5 c flour (1/2 wheat, 1/2 white works well)
1.5 tsp bk soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
1/2 c applesauce (unsweetened)
1/2 c sugar
1 egg + 1 egg white
3/4c milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp vanilla

Apple mixture: 
1 apple, peeled, cored, diced
1/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
Granola topping:
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c almond pieces (crushed raw almonds works)
1/4 c butter or equivalent
1/4 c sugar
splash vanilla
dash cinnamon + cloves

Directions: Mix dry ingredients including spices well so spices are evenly distributed. In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients well and then combine. On the stove-top, heat apple mixture until a caramel color appears (like the apples are in a caramel sauce). Allow mixture to cool for 5 minutes, then mix with bread dough and transfer to greased, floured bread pan(s). For the granola topping, heat butter and sugar together and add in remaining ingredients. Cook 1-5 minutes, then set aside for the topping. If using miniloafs, the granola topping can be applied immediately. If using large loaf pan, cook 15-20 minutes and then top with granola topping. Cook an additional 20 minutes. 

Oven temp: 350
Makes 3 mini loaves or 1 large loaf. 

1.5 c white flour
1 c wheat flour
2 tsp gr. ginger
2 tsp gr. cinnamon
1.5 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 c molasses 
1/2 c pumpkin puree, strained
1/2 c sugar
2 egg whites
1 tbsp oil

Mix dry ingredients well to promote even mixing of spices. In seperate bowl, mix wet ingredients, then combine. The dough will be quite thick. You may add 1/4-1/2 c water or milk to loosen it if you like. Transfer to greased, floured bread pans and bake 30-40 minutes. Top immediately with powdered sugar if you like. 

Oven temp: 350
Makes 3 miniloaves or 1 large loaf

Pumpkin Custard Bread
3/4 c white flour
3/4 c wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 c pumpkin
1 tbsp oil
1/2 c sugar
1 egg + 1 egg white
1/2 c milk or water
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract

** Note: If you like a sweeter bread, you may want to increase the sugar to 1 cup. This bread is like cornbread - not super sweet **

Mix dry ingredients well, in a seperate bowl mix wet ingredients. Combine and pour into bread pans, bake 20-30 minutes. 

Oven: 350
Makes 3 miniloaves or 1 big loaf.


  1. Hey doc. Where you tell the winner who to contact you should bold your contact information so it is larger and easier to see.

  2. Keep your head up! You have a very bright future ahead of you! Dont worry about what happened today, you can take it all as a learning experience! :)

  3. So sorry to hear that things aren't going as good as they could be. Academia is so *@%!ed up! The politics and manipulation are really unbelievable. Keep thinking positively and hopefully you will be on your way to a more independent permanent position soon!

  4. really sorry to hear about everything going on with work.
    after going through my masters, and problems with my supervisor, i can't even believe academia functions the way it does... and the complete lack of control in my own life is perhaps the most stressful part of it. so in this respect, i emphasise.
    but yes, clearly this is one day/week/period in your life. it will change. you went into this positive and optimistic, so just stay in the right frame of mind :)